A little while after the robbery when my computer got stolen, once I had gotten through a short period of denial when I was optimistic that my computer would get found, I started looking for bright sides to the whole bad deal. “Well,” I thought, “while Dad sends me that other computer that he has, this’ll give me a nice analog weekend. I’ll get an enforced break from technology, and that’ll be good, because I really have been using it too much.” The computer I’m talking about was one that Viki had graduated from, and that was sitting around in the house doing nothing for nobody. They had offered it to me before and I figured now was the time to actually take them up on it. I would have it within a few days. Maybe it’d actually be a little longer than just an analog weekend, but so much the better for relearning to live without a computer.
And so I started doing a bunch of things I’d been meaning to do but on which I’d never quite made much more than lackluster progress. For one, I cooked a bunch of food. Squash and applesauce and Indian-style fried eggplant and guacamole. I made a bunch of progress into library books that I’d had for weeks. Every night you’d find me sitting on the couch on our porch, soaking in the warm evenings, reading about natural farming or the paleo diet or something. It was amazing how many pages I got through once I didn’t have any trivial social networking or pseudo-news to distract me. I hung out with friends, too. The robbery happened just the day before our latest housemate, Carrie, moved in to take the place of Chelsea (who was strangely ephemeral, living here only a month and a half). So I allowed plenty of time for hanging out with her and the whole house as we got to know her better. I met new people as they came over for house gatherings or as I went to some of the bounty of potlucks that Minneapolis has. With some of these new friends, I went to some of the healthy number of street parties that happen around here. One of them was Powderhorn Porch Festival, which is where two blocks of houses host music shows on their front porches, and everyone wanders around listening to them in turn. I met a guy there who was biking around with a trailer behind his bike, built to hold a bookshelf with lots of copies of a book he was selling because he wrote it; it was a huge comic book about hobos in the year 2136, and I practically had no choice but to buy it.
All this took more than just a few days. Time went by and I still had no computer, because of a series of delays on the other end. I didn’t make a big effort to ask for it quicker because I already felt like a bit of a leech asking for a free computer. Even though Dad and Viki had freely offered it to me before, it somehow seemed like bad juju to say, “You know that free computer? Hurry the hell up with that.” They had plenty going on in their lives. Scuba classes, citizens’ police academy, cooking courses, volleyball—it takes up time and sends “messing around with an old computer” to the back burner.
But the novelty of going analog slowly wore off and gave way to frustration. I discovered all the ways that it really is nice to have a computer. If you don’t know where something is, you can just fire up the magical box and Google will tell you within seconds. If you’re curious about a recipe, you don’t have to just stay agonizingly curious until a friend of yours gets home so you can ask to borrow their computer. And if you’re meeting a lot of people in real life, you don’t get to follow up on that by finding them online and figuring out when you can hang out with them again. Heaven help me, I actually did feel deprived by not having social networking to mess around on.
Oh, and I missed music. I did find more appreciation for how much music the people I live with play. There are some outstanding guitar players here, and banjo players too, and some of the people who come to visit are awesome as well, and of course we can’t forget Sucharit and his harmonium. On the evening when Grandma and Grandpa came to visit me, Sucharit and a friend of his had put aside some time for practicing old Indian songs, Sucharit on the harmonium, his friend on the tabla. (The tabla is a pair of drums you play with your hands, but it’s not just a lame hippie bongo type of deal; the degree of nuance and speed you can get on those things will boggle any mind.) Grandma and Grandpa were a rapt audience. So was I, for that matter. But for all the awesomeness of the music that happens almost spontaneously at Sprout House, you still miss something when you can’t just open up your computer and bury yourself in Hedningarna’s yoiking(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfLE9K5ONQY) or shout along with everything John Darnielle says in [a Mountain Goats song] or let Krzysztof Penderecki take your brain to eldritch places.
So I got impatient. I kept waiting, and eventually took a few proactive steps like helping track down software that could guarantee old data to be expunged for Viki’s peace of mind, and sometime around a month and a half after I lost my old computer, its replacement arrived in the mail. I wasted no time getting it set up and putting all my many customizations on it and installing my programs. Digitally enabled once again!
But a nagging realization came slowly over me: the computer just wasn’t that good. If I felt like a poor specimen of humanity for asking for a rush on a free computer, it was surely even worse to then reject that computer. But all the same, I just couldn’t not get frustrated and maddened by herky-jerky YouTube videos and windows that took an age to pop up. I realized I would have to take the computer matter into my own hands.
I put in some time on Craigslist, but then I discovered something I liked way better—I went to the pawn shops. Some really good computers end up at these places, and most of them probably aren’t even stolen—they keep pretty close tabs on this stuff nowadays, with required surveillance and serial number lookups of everything they get that has a serial number. And that’s how I found the computer I’ve ended up with. It was really a far better deal than I had any right to, a really compact, fast, capacious computer better than any I’ve ever owned, with 8GB of RAM and a 750GB hard drive that would hold four or five redundant copies of every file I’ve ever created. For $260. At first I was hesitant for unimportant reasons, but now I really like this computer. Everything I do just feels really smooth. I feel like I can do anything. It’s actually sort of a strange power rush. Maybe I should cool it; all this takes me dangerously close to materialism. But I think it’s justifiable. It’s an investment into high-quality time I’ll be spending. If you’re at a computer a lot, you realize how much it sucks to be at one that just doesn’t do the trick for you. Everything becomes a misery of waiting. I’m not in it for the status symbol, I’m in it for the happiness of the time I’ll spend using this thing.
(Oh, and what of the computer I gave up? I think it’s found a good home, One of my housemates has been living on borrowed computers for many months, and I think he’ll enjoy just having a computer, no matter its speed. I hope it’s found its home, indirectly though it may have been.)
So now you have way more information than you ever wanted on my computer travails. Now here’s the bit that you might actually care about. I plugged my camera’s memory card in and ran a file recovery program on it to see what I could salvage. I got back more than I’d dared to expect. It was awesome—the photos just kept appearing, hundreds of ’em.
Photos I do have: All of them from several places, and most of them from most of the other places, including the picture of the New Orleans guy biking in a giant wizard hat, the bartender in Arizona who had shaved his entire head except for his sideburns, the very poorly punctuated sign on Vancouver Island, my Mexican trainhopping companion giving the thumbs up, and one of a sign for a yard sale in California where you can get new and used family.
Photos that are gone forever: Some from Calgary, some from Glacier National Park (I miss them), a few from Vancouver including one of some soondae I got at a Korean restaurant there, half of one from a cenote in the Yucatán, one of a big Crowduck fish, and one of a haggis Dad and I had last Christmas. I hope you can live without them.